Grow your own tacos: thoughts on themed container gardens

Container gardens

We are on the precipice of gardening season now, and gardeners are preparing for what I call our Olympics, ‘tis the season of garden center shopping.
Soon, if you haven’t already, we will be visiting every greenhouse, big box store and seasonal sale pop-ups for our new plants for 2024. Many of those plants will end up in containers.
Container gardening is hotter than ever. There are many reasons for this. For many, it is a way to garden even if you don’t have your own plot of ground to plant in — like condo, apartment and townhouse dwellers.
For others, it is making gardening manageable when the rigors of digging in the ground and constantly having to get up and down doesn’t work for the body. And for some, like me, having containers expands my postage stamp-sized landscape immensely.
But now I want to get serious here. I want you to think outside the box, or rather outside the pot. Sure, the common mix of the red geranium, spike and vinca is still a popular option for a container combination. I want to open your eyes to some more non-traditional (and delicious) container options.
In-the-ground-theme gardens have been popular for years. There is the ever-popular butterfly/hummingbird combination, the vegetable garden, the cottage garden, the herb garden, and the cutting garden, just to name a few. Then there are sensory gardens that focus on touch or fragrance. And moon gardens that employ the use of white and silvery flowers for those who only are home to enjoy their gardens in the evenings. But why not carry these themes to containers?
I also find container-themed gardens are great for Mother’s Day gifts or summer activity gifts for kids or just your favorite gardener. You can also add some “accessories” to go with the container theme. With a tea garden, you could add a loose tea holder; for a salsa garden, a hand-operated food mill. The possibilities are endless.
Container-themed gardens are great ways to expand your gardening palette. Having some wonderful-smelling pots of fragrant flowers that give off their strongest scents in the evening (these are called vespertine flowers) is a great way to add to the relaxation of after-work time in the chaise lounge. Flowers — like the good ol’ fashioned, four o’clock, flowering tobacco — can, with their tropical sweet smells, transport you to a vacation of the mind.
On the edible side, I love making themed containers, like grow-your-own-taco or grow-your-own- salad, or grow-your-own-salsa. Of course, the grow your own taco does not come complete with a dairy cow for cheese, nor a steer for the beef (Although wouldn’t it be cute and fun for kids to decorate this container with some toy farm animals?).
In the grow-your-own-taco or -salsa container gardens, I recommend a Roma-type tomato, such as San Marzano or Amish Paste, some onion sets that can be planted either to create green onions/scallions or table (regular) onions, a pepper of your taste palette — some would prefer a mild; others jalapeno or hotter, and some cilantro.
For a tea garden container, you could include a variety of mints. And just a reminder, mint should never ever be planted freely in the ground. All mints are highly aggressive and can become your entire garden. In addition to a tea garden container, you can add other herbs like chamomile and catnip, which are great calming herbs for relaxation and digestion.
Herb containers can have themes, too. I love the taste and smell of lemon, so I make a hanging container of lemon verbena, lemon thyme and the intensely lemon-scented Mabel Grey geranium. Besides being so refreshing to just brush/crush a few leaves to smell that intense clean lemon smell, lemon thyme is great for using with fish or chicken. And the crumbled up dried leaves of either Mabel Grey geranium or lemon verbena, scattered over the carpet before vacuuming, is nature’s Febreze.
Another great use of a theme container that can be put together right now even in early spring is what I call the salad bowl. Just sprinkle some mixed green seeds of your choosing, and in a few weeks for the next eight to 10 weeks, you will have fresh lettuce for your sandwich and salads.
A cautionary note with choosing greens: Be sure to read the seed description. Now, you may be one of the food connoisseurs who enjoys those bitter greens like radicchio, chicory or endive, but my Milky Way-loving sweet tooth can’t take to them. I select the bibb, romaine and leaf lettuces.
Choose the varieties that are cut and come again, so you can remove a few leaves continuously to extend the harvest. The other great thing about containers, depending on which size you choose, is their portability.
As I often talk about cool-season and warm-season vegetables, lettuces start to decline (as they are programmed to do) as the temperature soars. But if you have planted a true “bowl” of lettuce, it can easily be moved to a shadier spot as it gets sunnier and hotter to extend the harvest.
On the flip side (somewhat extreme) but true, I had a person tell me they didn’t have much full sun exposure in their landscape so they would plant their tomatoes and peppers, which are real sun-loving plants, in containers and then put them in a wagon.
He would then methodically move them around as the height of the sun changed to get maximum exposure. Now that is real container innovation!

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